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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas

There's a lot of things I love about Christmas. Since I was getting tired of grading and when I get tired I tend to grade more harshly, I thought I'd take a quick break and start this list of things I like about Christmas and assorted Christmas memories.

  • I remember setting up the tree with my family, usually the day after Thanksgiving. Along with all the ornaments, we'd put candy canes on it, and the best part about that was that we could pick the candy canes off and eat them later.
  • We always used an artificial tree, but one year, when I was five or six, my parents decided to get a "real" tree for once. So we did. Then one morning as I was leaving for kindergarten, I found the tree tipped over in our living room with the cats looking extremely pleased with themselves sniffing around it. So that was the first and the last time we had a real tree.
  • While we decorated the tree, we listened to Christmas music. Christmas doesn't sound like Christmas without Mannheim Steamroller albums.

Why trials?

I was listening to a talk from October 1995 by Elder Richard G. Scott and I decided I should share a couple of the quotes. The whole talk is great, but these two quotes especially stood out. If you want to read or listen to the rest, click on this link.
Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more (see Prov. 3:11–12). He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain. 
To exercise faith is to trust that the Lord knows what He is doing with you and that He can accomplish it for your eternal good even though you cannot understand how He can possibly do it.
I like the talk because it reminds me that things are hard, but that it will all be okay. There is a reason for everything we go through, even if we don't know what it is or how things will turn out. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Escape Plans

My book is done. If anyone wants to check it, here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H6CACMG.
Tomorrow and Wednesday it will be available for FREE. After that it will be $1.05. 


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Finished at last

It's done. All that's left is some proofreading. And I have to decide if I'm going to cut the epilogue. But the writing is done. After approximately eight years of working on this story, it is finished. Sorry. That's a bit repetitive. But I'm trying to get myself to believe it. It'll probably sink in soon. 
What am I talking about? My novel. It's got a title now. It's called Escape Plans. After I finish the proofreading, with the help of my mom, I will publish it on Amazon.com. That should happen by next Saturday at the very latest, by Monday at the earliest. When it does, it will be available to download and read. 

For the time being, I've decided to share a brief description of the book. If it catches your attention, please check out the book when it comes out next week. 
Shirina's cousin has been captured by the Empire and she will not rest until she gets him back. They and a few loyal friends are members of a group of spies working to free the country of Arden from the Empire's grasp. As Shirina seeks to free Ryan, she must balance her desire to serve the cause she believes in and her longing to live the life she had planned.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Avoiding Generalizations About People

I have only included the photo below as context for what I'm talking about. In no way do I agree with what it says. On one level it's a flippant statement, probably not designed to be taken too seriously. However, for me, it is sarcastic and rude. It is an unfortunate generalization, a strawman set up to be attacked. However, if we actually take the time to get to know immigrants and refugees on a personal level rather than attacking a broad and undefined group, we will hopefully form a more positive attitude.
During the first part of my mission, I had the privilege to serve among a group of refugees from Burma who had been exiled from their own country because their culture wasn't in favor with those in power. To this day, I have not met a kinder or more generous group of people. They accepted us into their homes, shared what they had with us and did more for us than we could offer them. They shared their traditions with us and allowed us to discuss the gospel with them. Many of these good people had already been baptized into other Christian denominations, but they opened their hearts and their homes to us. I love them and I could feel their love for me. Never did they try to push their traditions onto others or ask us to change what we taught them; rather, they shared what they had and listened with love when we shared with them. I learned a great deal from my time with them. I admit that seeing a post like this photo is disturbing to me, because I can imagine that someone might apply such a statement to these people I care about. It is much better to think about people as individuals, because when we do, it is easier to see them as our brothers and sisters rather than as members of a generalized, faceless group.
Photo: So these people who have fled to America now want to change us?  #tcot #kjrs #teaparty #LNYHBT

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Forgiveness and moving on

I've been cleaning out my old phone. I used it to store thoughts that I didn't have time to write down somewhere else. I thought I'd share one of the thoughts I found. Here it is:

God doesn't keep track of how many chances He's given us. Every time we come to Him in humility, He allows us to start over. In His mercy, He allows us to remember past mistakes so we don't repeat them, but He forgives and forgets and lets us move on. It doesn't matter so much where we are as what direction we're going. 

I took these pictures in Parque Urquiza, in Paraná, Entre Ríos, Argentina.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Midterms!

This week, I took my first midterm since before my mission. I think it went all right. Time will tell. I must say, I love learning. However, tests really aren't my favorite part of the learning process. Still, I suppose they are necessary. (insert life analogy here) I was nervous, because I didn't know if I remembered how to take a test. But it was okay. And it was good because I realized that I know stuff! 
Now it's time for bed... I've got to be awake tomorrow to study for my other two tests this weekend. One down, two more to go!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Priesthood and gender relations.

Okay, I'm finally doing it. I've been wanting to write a post on the subject of women and the priesthood for a long time, but there's so much to say and I wasn't sure exactly what to say or how to say it. This post doesn't even come close to covering the whole topic, but it is a small part of what I feel.
I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. It is God's church. I know this because I've prayed about it. I strongly believe that anyone who studies it out and prays can know the same thing. I also believe we have a living prophet on the earth, who leads the church by revelation from God. The living prophet holds the keys to the priesthood, which is God's power for the salvation of all of His children.
Within the Church, I think that sometimes we mistakenly view callings and responsibilities as ranks or as ladders to be climbed. They're just positions that can be held. Yes, there is an order to it, but it's not like any of those callings is more important than any other. There's a great scripture in the Bible that talks about how every part of the body is necessary. Both men and women and all of the callings in the church are important to its function. No matter what we're asked to do, we will be blessed for our faithful service. If we look at the way sister missionaries are becoming ever more involved in missionary service, it's further evidence that men and women need to work together to help themselves and others gain salvation.
Personally, I don't feel at all slighted in not being ordained to the priesthood. I don't feel robbed, I don't feel less important, and I have no reason to complain. As a daughter of God, I have my own role to fulfill, and I am extremely grateful for the covenants I have made through baptism and in the temple. Those are all priesthood ordinances and I haven't been left out in any way because I'm a woman. I loved the conference talks on Sunday and Saturday which spoke of the importance of women, the importance of men, and the importance of loving, respecting and honoring each other.
One final thought: I liked it when President Uchtdorf said (in his priesthood session talk, I believe) that we sometimes think or say that men are less sensitive or that they don't get their feelings hurt as easily as women do, but that's not necessarily the case. Women need to be sensitive to the feelings of men, and men need to be sensitive to the feelings of women. We just need to treat each other as brothers and sisters should. Charity is a quality we all need to develop.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sarcasm

As I've observed sarcasm in social interactions, I've noted that those who use it tend to underestimate its negative effects because they assume that what they say is humorous instead of hurtful. People who use sarcasm often think their targets are too sensitive or naïve when feelings get hurt. “She just can’t take a joke,” they say. In more disturbing cases, sarcasm communicates contempt for others and gives people the “dishonest opportunity to wound without looking like they’re wounding.”8 If someone feels hurt by such sarcasm, the one who made the verbal jab will often respond with something like, “I was only teasing! Lighten up.” ~Jennifer Grace Jones, Ensign. Aug, 2013
Sarcasm, as I understand it, is irony directed at a person. It's saying something we don't mean. Which, by definition, is not truthful. Now, just to clarify, I believe there is a difference between sarcasm directed at a person and being facetious about a situation. Facetiousness is saying "Lovely weather we're having" while you and your friend are running through pouring rain. (Unless, of course, you happen to adore downpours. In which case that's simply a statement of opinion.) But when sarcasm is directed at people, it can have a wounding effect. Even though we don't *really* mean what we say.
Think of Sherlock, or House. Hilarious on television, but would you really want one of them in your circle of friends? They make people cry on a regular basis, and we laugh. However, in real life, that's not so funny. Sarcastic humor can be contagious. It's a habit that I've sometimes fallen into, and it's not always easy to break.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Learning to read again

I am relearning the art of reading. It's true. I haven't had to read a text critically for approximately two years. There's a big difference between "reading for fun" and attempting to understand really complicated language that's trying to say something about literature, the universe and everything. I'm not saying the second option isn't fun; it is! Otherwise, there's no way I'd be starting my masters program right now. However, it's a skill that's been a bit rusty for a while, and it's nice to get it out, polish it up and put it to use again.
Writing and reading critically are highly connected. For a couple of my classes, I'm required to write reading responses or summaries of the readings. Writing down in my own words what the article says requires me to simplify, which requires me to understand what I'm reading in the first place. It's quite a helpful exercise and it's definitely not busy work. As I complete the writing assignment, I have the opportunity to actually put my brain to work while I'm reading, rather than just passively consuming. If  I don't take notes while I'm reading and try to "reconstruct" the text, then it's easy to arrive at the end of an article with absolutely no idea what I just "read".
Actively engaging with various texts is a very important part of education. It's a skill that no one is born with, but anyone can learn. Learning to read is fun!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gender roles

I believe that we are all God's children. He loves us. He created us all in His own likeness and image, as we can read in Genesis 1:27. We all have the potential to become as He is and receive the blessings He has prepared for us. However, none of us can do this alone. I have a firm testimony that both men and women are necessary to God's plan. We need each other. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many teachings on this subject, which are summarized in "The Family: a Proclamation to the World". Because of these teachings, I believe firmly that men and women are equal. It's very easy to start questioning particular doctrines, but if we know that God loves us, we can trust that He knows what is best for each and every one of his sons and daughters.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Almost there

I'm almost done with my novel! This has been eight years in writing, and I'm closer than I've ever been to actually finishing. I've just got a few pages left to rewrite and edit, and then I will publish it via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. It will then be available for anyone who's interested in reading it. If you like fantasy, watch for it within the next few weeks.  I designed a possible cover today and that was fun.
The working title for now is Arden: Shirina. It's several years after the Empire invaded the country of Arden, and a group of spies is still fighting for freedom. In the midst of this struggle, Shirina, one of the spies, must rescue her captured cousin and help a young soldier escape service to the Empire. There are other stories yet-to-be-finished about the same country, including some of the same people, which will probably turn into more novels and perhaps a few short stories. I'll work on those in the future. For now, I'm going to finish this novel and then concentrate on my Masters program.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Clear communication through writing

Why write?

Everyone needs to write something sometime. So much of our communication is written these days. Texting, Facebook, twitter, blogs, school assignments and job applications all require us to write. The first thing we need to realize is that writing is NOT the same as speaking. It's a separate skill that we need to learn and practice if we want to improve. I've adapted this blog post from a handout that I prepared for a writing presentation at a Relief Society activity in my ward. I believe that the internet is turning all of us into writers. The better we know how to communicate through writing, the more likely others are to understand our ideas properly when they read them. 

Education

One of my favorite books is Education of a Wandering Man, by Louis L'Amour. It's a wonderful adventure story about reading and traveling and writing. I love seeing how L'Amour's own adventures show up later in his novels. I first read that book as an assignment in my twelfth grade English class, and it has stuck with me ever since. It has had a great influence on my own education.
Education is made up of more than books. It means learning to work, learning to think, learning to see the world around us through new eyes. For me, it also means learning about God and my relationship to Him. I firmly believe God wants His children to be educated about many things. In Doctrine and Covenants 93, verse 36, we learn that the glory of God is intelligence, or light and truth. In D&C 88:78-79, we find a list of all the things God encourages us to learn.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Musicals and movies and books, oh my!

Last night, I got to see The Scarlet Pimpernel at the SCERA theater. It was pretty amazing. I've loved musicals for a very long time and haven't gotten to see one in a couple of years. Also, I think this was the first time that I've seen a musical made from a book. (Fiddler on the Roof and Guys and Dolls don't count because they were based on characters from various short stories.) So it was fun for me to compare the musical to the book to the movie, both of which I enjoyed greatly. The musical was great. I probably would have fallen head over heels in love with it right there if I hadn't seen and read the other versions.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Creativity and Productivity

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. 
~Thomas Alva Edison, quoted in Harpers Monthly 1932, according to Wikiquote

Ideas are funny things. Something can sound truly brilliant in your head, but to get it to come out right on paper takes a great deal of work. As I was thinking about this today, I remembered the quote from Thomas Edison. I think creativity is a lot like genius; it takes a spark of an idea plus a whole lot of work and a great deal of perseverance to finish a creative project. I'm in the middle of editing my book. It's been about eight years since I started. I never counted how many drafts I've been through so far, and I want it to be done. But books don't spring fully formed from an author's brain like Athena from Zeus' head. The idea is there. I know, more or less, how I want this story to turn out. (Actually, the ending's still quite up in the air. I should give it a parachute so it'll land safely...) But I have a tricky middle section to get through first. I changed one detail and now there's lots of other details that hinged on that one, and so I've got to go through and make sure that everything makes sense. Which is one reason I'm writing this blog post instead. (I take breaks. Also, on an unrelated note, facebook is to productivity as a black hole is to space and time.) But I'd really like to get this story finished, because I want to see what happens. I'd better finish up here and get back to work.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Journals and remembering


I decided to write a post about journals. I love keeping a journal. At first it was difficult to think what I wanted to write, but as I kept at it, I discovered that keeping a journal helps me remember the past and have hope for the future. It also helps me sort out my thoughts as I'm writing them down. This is the first time I've taken photos specifically to post on this blog, and it was kind of fun. I got out all of the journals I've filled up over the years and started taking pictures. You'll see from the photos that I've used many different journals. Each one is. And they're all quite special to me. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A quick, comforting thought

footprints, sand
No matter how alone we may feel, the Lord will never
forget us or leave us comfortless. 

I just came across this verse again. It's in 1 Nephi 21:26. Nephi was quoting Isaiah, so it's also found in Isaiah 49:26
sunset, river, clouds
The Lord's comfort comes
like a beautiful sunset at
the end of a difficult day
to sooth our soul.
The last part of the verse reads: "and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob." As I was reading it this time, that phrase just stood out to me. Christ is our Savior. He loves us each individually. He wants us to know that. That means so much to me. He not only cared enough to come to earth and perform the Atonement, but he cares enough to tell us about it. The preceding verses contain strong imagery, largely symbolic, about how Jesus will come to our defense if we are willing to accept His protection. In verse 16, He tells us that He has graven us upon the palms of His hands. He will never forget us. I know that is true.

Just keep swimming and keep moving forward!

Sometimes it's hard to focus on our goals in life. I'll start out and I'll know exactly where I want to go, and I'll have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to get there... and then it gets hard. Take writing, for example. Honestly, I love to write. If you've read anything at all on this blog, then you've probably guessed that about me. But there's this book that I've been writing since I was 15 years old. It started out as a short story for an English class, but I wanted to turn it into an epic fantasy that might have a chance of being published someday. And now, approximately 8 years later, I'm almost there. And sometimes, it's really hard to sit down and work on it. It's different than writing a blog post or a paper or even a short story, all of which are much easier for me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Two years later

The MTC Map
Exactly two years ago, I walked into the Provo Mission Training Center. That was the start of the hardest period of my life so far, not counting coming home, of course. Why did I go? I felt it was what God wanted me to do. And it was completely and totally worth it. I met some amazing people, I learned a lot more about how to serve others, and I had so many experiences that I can't condense into a single blog post. I thought I'd share part of the second email I sent home. It seems to express how much I didn't know yet, but how I did know that God wanted me there at that time:
Life is great and terrible here in the MTC, and sometimes both at once. But the times when the Spirit is so strong that I absolutely KNOW this is where I'm supposed to be make it worthwhile. Most of the time. But the food's good, the Spirit is strong, our district is pretty cool, and our teachers are awesome. I love the gospel so much, and I know it's true. Heavenly Father loves His children and He wants them to know that, so He calls missionaries to teach them. I know the gospel's true, and even when life gets hard, I know it's worth being here. (2 August 2011)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Plans, hikes and beautiful views

These photos are from a hike
a mile up the Mount Timpanogos trail.
Someday I want to hike to the summit,
but you have to start somewhere.
This week I made an outline of the courses I want to take during my masters program. I'm surprised at how quickly the planning went. It seems so simple on paper, and I know it'll likely be a lot more complicated in practice. But it's nice to have a plan. If I don't have one, I get the feeling that I'm just drifting along, that my life is going nowhere. When I do write out my plan, I can tell that I am progressing towards my goals. It also helps to know that I'm a daughter of God. I know that God has a plan for me, too. He's prepared a way for me to become like Him. It's hard to remember that all the time, but I know it's true.
The lesson in Relief Society today was about the history of the Relief Society, and I loved the way the teacher presented it. In addition to talking about the origins of the organization, she felt impressed to make the point that God and Jesus Christ love us. That made the lesson personal for me because I'd been praying to be able to feel God's love for me. And the lesson today was one of the ways God has answered that prayer this week. I know He loves me; I've felt His love so many times throughout my life. But I needed to hear that again today. I know that God does answer prayers.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Language

     One of my favorite things is language. All aspects of it. I love the way words can paint pictures and tell stories and capture imaginings. Writing has always been the easiest form of expression for me. It's actually really hard for me to say my thoughts out loud. Sometimes, even when I'm writing my thoughts down, I edit myself so many times, reworking words and phrases and redoing entire paragraphs. But it's still easier for me to express myself that way than try and say everything I mean out loud without rambling on and feeling ridiculous. When I can see my thoughts on paper, I'm more confident that they make sense. So that's one thing I like about language, especially written language: the ability it gives me to express myself clearly.
     I do enjoy talking with people, too, especially when I don't feel pressured to say everything just right. When I'm with someone I'm comfortable around, I know that they won't care if I say something wrong and I don't think about it. In fact, I prefer speaking face to face than by phone, text or chat. It's just easier to read people's reactions that way.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hope in the Savior's Resurrection

I don't know what to call this post. It's pretty personal and I'm not sure how it will come out. I just found out that one of my closest friends growing up died today. I can't really put into words how I feel. I miss her. I haven't talked to her since before my mission, but we spent lots of time together when I was between 12 and 16 years old.
We used to go to plays together. This amazing woman was actually closer to my mom's age, but she took the time to invite me to go see the high school play with her one year... it was Charlie's Aunt. I didn't know I liked plays before that, but I do now. She must have been inspired to invite me. I needed a friend just like her. After that, I would buy tickets to all the high school plays and musicals and ask her to go with me. We'd hang out and watch old movies. She loved her dogs and was devastated when one of her pets died. She cared about everyone. She was one of my leaders at church, but she would spend time with me because she cared about me, not because she was assigned to. Truly, she was my closest friend in Quincy. I was homeschooled, and while I believe that gave me the best education I could have received, I felt lonely sometimes and I didn't always feel close to the girls my age. I did have friends at church and in my violin group, but we had different schedules and didn't always have time to spend together. So having a friend who made time to be with me was great. I was welcome in her home and she was welcome in ours. I wanted to be like her when I grew up. I still do, really. She was one of the people I missed most when my family moved away. She went out to dinner with us two years ago when we went back to visit, and that was the last time I saw her. I wish I'd had her address to write her while I was in Argentina. Now I'll have to wait a while to say hi.

God's work

This is just a short thought. I was looking through the scriptures from seminary (a scripture study class for high school kids) and started with Moses 1:39. "For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." God is love. He spends a great deal of time and effort to help us come home to Him. Not only does He want us near Him, He wants us to be like Him, because He wants us to enjoy the happiness He experiences. This is His work and He loves it, because He loves us. His purpose is to bring about our eternal happiness, if we will accept it. I love that He takes the time to explain that to us through the scriptures and through prophets. Here he was talking to Moses, but the same message can be found throughout all the scriptures. I am so grateful to know that God lives, that He loves us, and that He speaks to all of us no matter when we live on the earth. He's there for us and we can pray to Him and receive answers personally. A lot of times those answers come as we study the words He's already revealed, as well as through thoughts and feelings. He speaks to all of us individually, if we ask. He does this because He wants to help us know who He is so we can become like Him. He is our Father and He always wants what is best for us.

Friday, June 14, 2013

We're happy when we're hiking

I like hiking. That doesn't mean I'm a veteran hiker who's hiked tons of really hard trails already. But I like going on hikes and someday, I'm going to hike Mount Timpanogos. That's the goal for now. I've got a ways to go before I can reach it. I'll have to start out with smaller hikes and work my way up. When I go hiking, I don't always like the hard parts. There's always steep places to climb up or down, rough patches, slippery parts, narrow spots.... you get the idea. But when you get to your destination, there's a sense of accomplishment that makes all the hard things you did to get there worthwhile. Not to mention an awesome view. And you don't even have to wait till the end to get a good view, if you keep your eyes open. The key is to enjoy the journey. Which means I shouldn't be discouraged that I've only done smaller, easier hikes up to this point. I shouldn't tell myself that this hike doesn't count cause it's not the big one. Instead, I should enjoy every hike I go on, good parts and bad, and keep working towards the goal. 
I should probably stop philosophizing about hiking now. Here's some of the pictures from the hike my family and I went on to Stewart Falls. It was really fun. The weather was perfect, the views were great and a good time was had by all. 

Waterfall, good view
Stewart Falls: the destination that made it worth it.
Did I mention that I love waterfalls? I do.

hiker sitting by Stewart Falls
Hiking is fun.

hike to Stewart Falls, good view, waterfall
One of those great views on the way.

Several people brought their dogs on the hike. This dog (the black thing is a dog) was hot and decided
to lounge in the river below the falls until her people were ready to leave. 







Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Talking out loud

     I seem to do a lot of remembering while I'm driving home from work. Tonight I thought about how I used to talk out loud while I was playing alone. I don't remember when I started doing it, but I do remember when I stopped... or at least when I started trying harder not to get caught at it.
     That day, I was playing outside the place where my brother had his cello lesson. There was a great play-set, and since I was the oldest of two children, I was used to entertaining myself. So I started spinning on the merry-go-round and pretending it was a time machine. (No, I hadn't heard of Doctor Who yet.) I was talking to thin air, explaining that LIVING was time travel, because time never stopped. Then another kid who was there for his brother's cello lesson walked up and asked what I was doing. I don't remember if I tried to explain, or if I mumbled something about playing on the merry-go-round. I just remember the awkwardness of the situation. I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10, but after that I realized it was kind of strange to talk out loud with no one listening. Maybe I thought I was too old for that sort of thing. Then again, I was embarrassed about a lot of things when I was younger. At any rate, I'm pretty sure that's when I tried to stop talking out loud. Before that, I'd just get carried away and not even notice I was doing it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The value of work

"Work is honorable. Developing the capacity to work will help you contribute to the world in which you live. It will bring you an increased sense of self-worth. It will bless you and your family, both now and in the future."    ~~For the Strength of Youth~~
    I am grateful for all the jobs I've had. Each one has contributed in some way to my learning and growth. For the last several months, I have been privileged to work as a custodian in the Provo temple. It's a wonderful job, probably my favorite so far. I'm really going to miss it when it's time to leave at the end of this month.
     I love working with people who are kind and uplifting. Obviously, no one's perfect, myself definitely included, but it's good to work with people who share my goals. Since we work at night, we often interact when we're all tired and not at our best, and that's good for me, too. It gives me a chance to practice patience. A lot of the time I'm still very bad at that, so I need the practice. I love my coworkers. They are wonderful and I count them as good friends.
     The other thing I love about working at the temple is the peace I can feel there. It's different from going and worshiping there, but while I work I get the chance to think about what the temple means to me and the things I can do better in my life. Cleaning helps me to think and reflect on my life. When I was working as a custodian at BYU before my mission, the time I spent pushing a recycling cart helped me prepare for those 18 months of my life. Now, the time I spend cleaning the temple helps me think about what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Caring and annoyance

There are days when I have to try hard to care about the things on my to-do list. At the same time, I sometimes have to try hard NOT to care about things that aren't really that important. I'm sure most human beings go through the same thing at some point in their existence. Caring is a part of living a well balanced life. We just have to decide what is worth caring about.

Tonight at work I noticed that I was getting annoyed, even angry, about little things that really don't matter much at all when I think about it. That's the key, thinking about it. When I get annoyed, my brain isn't really engaged and I'm reacting without thinking. And since I don't enjoy being angry about stupid things, I've decided to define the things that really do matter to me.

Things worth caring about:

  • My relationship with God, family, and friends.
  • My goals, hopes and dreams: the things I hope to accomplish with my life. 
  • Basically, caring about things under my control is worthwhile. Everything that's important to me pretty much fits these categories. And if it doesn't, it's probably not productive for me to spend time worrying about it. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Exercise is important

    The Garfield comic from a few days ago had Jon telling Garfield that he had no energy and wondering if he should work out. Or just take a nap. Garfield leans in close and says "Come to the Dark Side, Jon."

    Exercise and sleep are both really important. Together, they give us energy, and it's almost as good as having the Force. Unless the goal is to look like Garfield, it's a bad idea to follow his advice. RESIST THE DARK SIDE! Exercise, eat right AND get enough sleep!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Life and video games



Life is like a video game. You know you're making progress cause it gets harder. And you can handle that because you've leveled up since the beginning. The increased difficulty makes things more complicated, but also more interesting. If things never got harder, we'd never learn or grow at all. We need the challenges we face. You always level up most after the hardest bosses, after all. Totally a metaphor for real life.

However, in real life, you can't go around smashing random objects expecting to find money. And you just can't jump off a really high cliff into bubbling lava and expect to experience no lasting damage. Wouldn't it be nice if there were save points in real life, where you could go back and redo a level however many times you wanted? Though that might get old after a while. All in all, I think I'd rather stay in real life, but I think video games are a fun break. I've enjoyed Portal 1 and 2, Lego Star Wars, Fire Emblem, Zelda (Windwaker, Ocharina of Time, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword), and Ratchet and Clank. I should note that I haven't played through any of these by myself. I used to just watch my brother play and give tactical advice (and it was good advice!) but a couple years ago some of my friends taught me to play Portal 2. Fun stuff.

This is not how my brother and I play together. We're actually quite good friends. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Things that bring me happiness

Over the last little while, I've been figuring out what kinds of things I need to do to feel good physically, emotionally and spiritually. I guess that "last little while" could really be my whole life, but anyway, I thought I'd share some of the things that help me feel happy and healthy. There's nothing new or revolutionary here; I'm just listing some things that have become important to me.

Getting enough sleep is a must. I can tell when I'm short on sleep because my head hurts and everything is suddenly irritating, even things I normally wouldn't be bothered by. If I let myself get really sleep deprived, I end up with a really bad headache and a stomachache. It helps if I go to bed early-ish and get up early-ish because sleeping till noon really isn't as restful for me. I get better sleep when it's dark outside. That makes working 9 pm to 1 am kind of tough, but I really love my job. As long as I get to sleep when I get home, I usually do pretty well.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The right music for the right occasion

As I was coming home from ward prayer this past Sunday, I was listening to my Vivaldi 4 Seasons CD (my favorite for Sundays and on the way to the temple) and I thought how nice music is when you're driving alone. Then I thought that it's really important to pick the right music for the right time. Like, it'd be really bad to have a nice, relaxing arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon in D when you're driving late at night. That's the time to listen to some good classic rock or some upbeat fiddle music. I usually don't like listening to anything with a really strong beat (Linkin' Park, for example) at any time, but it really gives me a headache when I'm trying to drive. I guess my philosophy on driving music is closely related to exercise music. It's gotta be something to keep you going, but it can't be anything too crazy. Then, for writing, you need something that can be good background music. Usually, that means I pick songs I know already and I keep the volume lower than for exercising or driving.

Here's some of the music on my playlist:
Fireflies (Owl City)
American Pie (Don McClean)
Lucky (Jason Mraz and Colbie Callait)
Only the Good Die Young (Billy Joel)
Leaving on a Jet Plane (Peter, Paul and Mary)
Be OK (Ingrid Michaelson)
Carry on, My Wayward Son (Kansas)
Some Nights (Fun)
Mr. Blue Sky (Electric Light Orchestra)
Ode to a Superhero (Weird Al)
Wavin' Flag (K'naan)
Still Alive (GlaDos)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Choosing happiness



"Wouldn’t it be easy if we were choosing between visiting teaching or robbing a bank? Instead, our choices are often more subtle. We must choose between many worthy options. . . . The one thing that is needful is to choose eternal life. We choose daily." Bonnie D. Parkin (Ensign, Nov 2003)
There are so many choices we need to make in life. Some choices are important, some are trivial. The important choices are choices between drawing closer to God or drifting farther away. The prophet Lehi teaches in The Book of Mormon that we must choose between eternal life and eternal death (see 2 Nephi 2:25, 28). We must also choose between happiness and unhappiness. Even though the distinction between the two choices is clear, we usually don't get one single defining moment where we sit down at a table with two cards on it and pick up the one labeled "HAPPINESS". We don't get it over with that quickly or that easily. Choosing happiness is something we have to do daily. It's in the small and simple choices that we find happiness or unhappiness. Like the choice to spend time helping a friend, or reading scriptures, or doing family history research, or going to church to learn more about God, or going on a walk and feeling grateful for the beautiful earth God gave us, or doing any of hundreds of small things that will make us happy. God wants us to be happy, but He lets us choose whether to accept happiness. We are free to choose. 

Choosing happiness and choosing God are one and the same thing. I know He loves us and that He will help us find happiness if we so choose. 
I am a happy person because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I know He lives, I know the gospel is true, and I know that growing
closer to God will make us happier than anything else in the world. 


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Recycling


yeah, that's totally me...
link to original page
When I went off to college, I never imagined myself working as a custodian. However, that was the job I found in Winter semester of my senior year. I guess it's one of those crazy random happenstances that I like to call spiritual detours. I was grateful to have a job and now I’ll always be grateful for my time as a recycling specialist. It helped me learn how to work and how to keep myself entertained while working. From four to seven every afternoon, I wheeled my recycling cart through almost all the hallways in the JKB and the Talmage. The most interesting things I usually saw were the comics posted on the professors’ doors. Still, I enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Walking through a foreign city

At the end of my stay in Alcala de Henares, I walked across the city by myself. At four o'clock a.m. It was a beautiful, quiet city, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. I was there on a study abroad and it was my very last day in the country. As I walked from the flat where I'd spent the last 7 weeks towards the main square, I saw no one. Not a shop was open. The fountains and the lights played with the shadows. I met my friends by the statue of Cervantes, then we wandered out of the city to watch the sun rise.
We came back to the square around seven in the morning and I caught a bus back to the flat. I'd packed my things up around one a.m., so I only had to eat breakfast, shower and catch the train. My roommate helped me haul my 2 suitcases to the train station. I boarded my train with the suitcases and my backpack and sat down. Then, I realized I didn't have my cell phone. Not willing to go home without it, I ran the blocks back to the flat (suitcases in tow) and called up to our dueña. She let me in and I dashed up the stairs, grabbed my phone from the drawer where it had sat the last seven months, re-said my goodbyes, and flew back to the station, still hauling my suitcases by myself. I caught the next train just in time. That wasn't the end of the adventure, though. When one of my suitcases rolled away from me, a nice Romanian guy rolled it back to me and we struck up a conversation. I think he was concerned that I was going to get lost and miss my plane, but I knew where to get off the train and catch the metro. I said goodbye at Nuevos Ministerios and caught the metro that would take me to Barajas airport. Despite the cellphone incident and only two hours of sleep, I got there in plenty of time to check in and board my plane. I arrived in Salt Lake City on schedule.

     

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing.

I read a Prickly City comic about starting a book the other day. It was amusing and made me think about the difficulties of writing.

I used to think starting a book would be the hard part. But I've got a plethora of beginnings floating around. Middles and endings are tough. I'm in process of writing a book. I've started it twice and have gone back to the drawing board both times. I'm still not sure how it will turn out, but I think I've figured out a few details about characters and setting and such. Now I just have to keep writing...

Here's a few sketches I did of the characters from one of my books-in-progress.
Eventually their story will be told. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Detours

I just reread an entry from the last portion of my mission. It was a difficult time for me and my companion because my comp was facing a serious challenge. As I was thinking about it and reflecting on difficult times I'd faced during my mission and life up to that point, I wrote the following. While transcribing it, I've made a few grammar/stylistic updates but I haven't changed the content of the excerpt I've chosen to share. This entry was written December 14, 2012.

I call these moments "spiritual detours." A detour is something we hadn't planned, but that the highway engineers put in place to lead us around dangerous places, and it often involves cool scenic routes that we'd otherwise never have seen. And they do get us where we need to go, just not by the route we'd planned to take. When we come across a detour sign on the highway, it's important to follow it. And God puts "detours" in our lives to help us learn or experience things we didn't plan on. Like my mission. And my new goal to be an author. Things I couldn't possibly have foreseen but which have been so much better for me than what I had in mind. 

I believe that God has a plan for each of His children. I know that He loves us and even when things don't work out right away the way we wanted them to, everything will still be more than okay in the end. We are here on earth to have joy, and we will if we do our best to stay close to God. I am thankful that I've kept a journal throughout my life. Looking back at the past and how well things have worked out so far, despite my worst fears, helps me be optimistic about the future. I know I can trust God to help me through whatever comes next, because I've seen Him do it so many times already. Normally, I wouldn't share part of my journal on the internet, but I've chosen to do so this time because I feel this is something all of us need to know. God is there. He has a plan. We can trust Him. And we can believe in good things to come.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Never Again: tragic events in our cultural consciousness

As I was starting my research for a paper on X-Men: First Class and La saga de los longevos, by Eva Garcia Saenz, I came across a movie review that called my attention. It was written by a man who was extremely upset that X-Men films had used the Holocaust as a background for Magneto. I searched for this article again but couldn't find it. I wish I could because I'd like to give the author credit for making me think. Nonetheless, I saw that more than one academic paper has studied Jewish history as reflected in the X-Men comics and films. It wasn't new to First Class. Anti-semitism has been a motif in many of the comics and films, with the Holocaust being a logical reference. 
So why is this important? The author of the article I read objected strongly to what he seemed to view as the exploitation of a tragic historical event. I'd like to suggest another point of view. 
Tragic events should be remembered. Yes, they are traumatic. Yes, they are horrible. No, they shouldn't have happened in the first place. And they should not be glorified, exploited, or treated lightly. But they have happened and they should never be forgotten. Because if we let these events slip from our cultural consciousness, we just might allow them to happen again. One way to remember is to allow such things to become part of pop-culture, thus engraving them on our cultural memory. 
For me, referencing tragedies, including the Holocaust, in popular culture is therefore both acceptable and desirable. One of the purposes of art is to help us make sense of the world around us and that means that literature, film and music should reference world events good, bad and ugly. Dealing with events through art helps us learn from them and find healing as well. If we can use art to learn from history, maybe we can start repeating only the good parts. 

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
This quote by George Santayana is posted on the wall of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
File:Santayana on history.jpg
On the plaque, the quote is in Polish with the English back-translation.
Here's the link to the Wikipedia file where I got it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Literature's House




Literature lives in an old Gothic mansion,
surrounded by gables and spirits and moors.

Only the valiant may enter its lair,
discover its secrets -- escape through the door.

Many are frightened by literature's mask,
made up of words from centuries past.

Only the cunning come through the maze,
pull off the mask and see Literature's face.

Now, when the creature's unmasked and disarmed,
its tangle of words is well-filled with charms.

He fills up his house with rooms made of words,
endlessly building and dreaming up more.

Waiting for readers to come and explore.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Books! The best weapons in the world!"

Everyone loves a good story. But why are stories so important to us as human beings? They always have been. We need stories to help define who we are, to help teach us what we should do and what we shouldn't. Stories help us learn. They're extremely powerful and must be handled with caution. That's why people (especially dictators) often start burning books. Burning a book is a crime against humanity. We need books and we need the freedom to read and write what we choose. The stories books contain help maintain our identity as human beings.

Think of the Bible. Full of stories. Some stories end happily, others not so much. But they teach us about life and what we should do. A single story can contain many lessons. Take David and Goliath, for example. That story teaches us about courage and cowardice; faith and doubt; humility and pride; we learn that all things are possible with God's help and that weak things can be made strong. Someone could write a pamphlet teaching those principals, but without a story to illustrate the point, it would be really hard for anyone to know how to put these things into practice.

Stories help us decide who we are. This can be good and bad. Stories can inspire, but can also be used to deceive. I mentioned book-burning earlier. This has happened too many times throughout history, but one book-burning took place during Hitler's reign in Germany. Hitler was recreating his country's culture and he had to destroy the books that disagreed with him because they could make people think. People who could think would have asked too many questions. This was how Hitler was able to create an extremely convincing story to justify his actions. His story had everything that human beings want: villains, heroes, glorious deeds... but it wasn't true. And it hurt a lot of people. (I know that's an understatement.) Hitler, as an artist, understood the power of art to shape a country's perspective of truth. He used architecture, literature and film (what you might call propaganda), not just military power, to win over his country. We must be careful to recognize when we're being told a story and we should study it out for ourselves, then decide how much of the story to believe.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Blind Pursuit of Happiness


(This is a paper I wrote for my first English class at BYU. It is a critical analysis of "The Seagull," a really wonderful play by Anton Chekhov. I'm planning to write a series of posts about happiness and how we can achieve it. So I thought I'd start with an example of how NOT to find happiness.)

The characters in Chekhov’s play, “The Seagull,” lead complicated lives, and they blind themselves by focusing on one thing: a selfish pursuit of their own happiness. For several characters, this is a pursuit of unrequited love. Briefly stated, Simon loves Masha who loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin. Chekhov uses hyperbole to illustrate the paradox that pursuing only our own happiness and ignoring those around us leads to blindness and from there to misery.
Chekhov uses hyperbole in the way he represents human nature. Most human beings act selfishly some of the time; however, Chekhov’s characters are considerably more selfish than the average human being. For example, Constantine is an exaggeration of two human flaws: selfishness and blindness. Because he focuses so completely on his unrequited love for Nina, Constantine spends his whole life trying to find happiness by winning Nina’s love, at the expense of hurting everyone else around him. He tells Nina, “My whole life is bound up with you for ever. I can’t help loving you” (113). He has stopped seeing any other possibility for happiness. Nina is the inspiration for Constantine’s whole life. Without her, he feels “dry, stale, [and] dismal” (113). In Constantine, Chekhov uses hyperbole to present a picture of the way that human beings sometimes build their lives around another person and become blind to other people’s feelings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

File:Foil-2004-A.jpg
A fencing foil, courtesy of Wikipedia

Why do Sherlock and Watson make such a great team?  

They are foils. No, not aluminum foil. In literature, a foil is more like a fencing foil, a blunt springy sort of sword, used to hit the other person in a fencing match. Both fencers use the same sort of foil, a matched set, but they're in opposition. They go back and forth, thrusting and parrying in a complex dance. Now take Sherlock and Watson. They seem to have little in common at first glance. They're the original odd couple, sharing a cheap flat on Baker Street. Watson, an injured doctor and soldier; Sherlock, a bored genius. And then the adventures start. Watson is an intelligent man, but he does not, as Holmes says, "observe". He is a physician who has a knack for writing and a taste for adventure. He enjoys the mystery and excitement of being Sherlock's companion. Sherlock, on the other hand, pretends to be annoyed by Watson's supposed inability to reason; he really, however, delights in the opportunity to share his genius with an appreciative audience. The two play off each other. They form an intriguing pair, and their interaction is just as fascinating as the adventure itself.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Integrity, forgiveness and change

I love finding stories where two characters complement each other. Like Sherlock and Watson, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, Megamind and Metroman, etc. These stories fascinate me. Last month I saw Les Miserables and realized how much Javert and Jan Valjean follow this pattern. They are two amazing characters whose qualities complement each other and teach valuable lessons about forgiveness and integrity.

Both men do what they think is right and neither will give in. They are both willing to give their lives for what they believe in. The main difference between them is that Javert is a static character while Valjean is dynamic. Or in other words, Javert doesn't know how to change. Valjean does.

Every time the people sing "LOOK DOWN!!!" it seems to be a message to Javert, who ignores it as long as he can. He was born in the gutter, as he says, and he rose out of it and never looked back. He's a strong individual who was able to change his circumstances. He believes that because he has risen beyond his past by his own righteousness, others should be able to do the same, without breaking the law. His view of life is black-and-white, right-or-wrong, with no room for excuses or exceptions, even for himself.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Words, words, words


Writing fascinates me. I love shaping stories and dreaming up new worlds; spreading my word-net wide and trying to capture my dreams on a page. Sometimes it's so hard! I remember reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, where the main character spends a whole novel trying to capture a lighthouse in paint. Transfering a real-life experience to an artistic medium isn't what I'd call an easy prospect. I've read about so many authors who agonized over every single syllable of their writing, and I'm not sure I'm much different.

My dream is to be a real author. I call myself a writer because I write, but what does it take to be an author? My goal is to tell a good story -- hopefully a lot more than one! And every good story teaches something about human nature. It also uses language in a way that helps people understand. No wasted words. No confusion. Just a plain, good, understandable, enjoyable story. (Was that too many adjectives?)  I'm not always sure what to say, which words to choose -- but I carry on. I am so tempted to go back and delete what I've just written; I've given in to that temptation several times writing this post, in fact. I have difficulty writing just a rough draft and putting the editing off till later. I write a few sentences, then re-read what I wrote, fix a few things, and keep going. It's like knitting. (Madame Defarge comes to mind, which reminds me of They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie.) I have to push myself to keep writing. It's tempting to just stop. I wonder if I'll ever get published and if anyone will read my stories if I do. I like to think so. And I know that if I just give up, I'll never get anywhere.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Doing good

"At the end of each day, may we be able to say yes to the questions: 'Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need?' (Hymns, no. 223)" --M. Russell Ballard

So today I watched the video that I just posted. I've been hearing it quoted a lot in church lately and I really like it. God designed us to work together. We can't make it by ourselves. We need God and we need each other. That's why Jesus established His church the way He did, so that all of us could grow closer together and closer to Him. I know that if we each do just a little act of kindness each day, we can make a huge difference. There's a lot of people on this little blue planet, three out from the Sun, and even if only half of us started doing 7 nice things a week, Earth would be a happier place. It doesn't take a lot. Even a smile can make someone's day. Or a nice note.
Last week I had a stressful experience and burst out crying in front of everyone. And a stranger gave me a lovely note that helped me feel less embarrassed. Small things do make a difference.
In fact, it's usually the little things that affect our lives the most. Little, happy, wonderful things that create lasting memories. Like your mom reading you a bedtime story when you were little. Or your dad letting you help him mow the lawn. Or your brother teaching you how to play a video game. Or your best friend taking you to breakfast on your birthday. Or your boyfriend walking you home in the rain even though it's a long way and he'll have to walk back to his place alone. All the things we do to serve others will be remembered. Even  if the people we served don't remember, we will. And we'll feel grateful for the opportunity to do for others what someone has done for us.
The best remedy for feeling down is finding someone else to serve. Just forgetting about ourselves and our problems and helping someone else does us good.  It's easier to be optimistic about the future if we make just a small effort to improve the world, one random act of kindness at a time.

"This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

We can all do something

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hello again!

Well, it's been a long while since I've posted anything. So long in fact, that I can't seem to get into my old blog. So I decided to start a new one. Makes things simpler. 
For the last year and a half I've been away. I was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Serving a mission was the best decision I've made so far. I know, more than ever before, that Jesus Christ really is the Savior of the world and I know that if we follow Him, we will be able to return to live with God, our Heavenly Father, again. The opportunity to share that knowledge and teach people what we need to do to follow Jesus was wonderful. I can't imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't gone. I don't know what I would be like. I learned and grew a lot on my mission. Mostly I learned how much I still need to learn and grow. 
But that's how life-changing events are. They don't just make you into a different person. Mostly, they just point you in the right direction and you have to keep walking and making your own changes. It's called agency, the ability and responsibility we all have to act for ourselves. God gave us our agency and He will never take it away. I'm grateful for that. It means I get to make mistakes and learn from them and become a better person. Not on my own, because I need to ask for God's help to be better, but of my own volition. 
That's all for today. Later I'll add more as I feel like it and as time permits. Chau!